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Three Tips to Protect Your Unpublished Novel from Sinister Manuscript Thieves

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

  1. No one wants to steal your book.

  2. No one wants to steal your book.

  3. No one wants to steal your book.

Well, that was simple. Or were you expecting more?

Pressed for time? Listen to the post instead!

I've gone back and forth over whether or not I should make an article about this. Most people eventually figure out that no one's after their precious unpublished novels. Usually it comes after about a year of trying and failing to get that novel published. Once you're giving away free downloads of your book and spending money to advertise your free book, your worries about book thieves are long gone.

What changed my mind was reading this page on Writer Beware and realizing that, amazingly, there are people out there who are afraid that agents and publishers are going to steal their books. This means that they'll never get far enough down the publication black hole to realize the error of their ways. Of course the paranoia begins well before that - I look forward to the yearly post on the National Novel Writing Month forums in which people express their fears that the confirmation box (you know, the word counter that can't even tell your precious novel from lorem ipsum typesetting text) will steal their novels.

That some people are just going to leave their manuscripts on their hard drives and never show them to anyone for fear of thieving is not really a concern of mine - to be brutally honest, we're not likely to miss out on the next To Kill a Mockingbird here. What does concern me is that these fears can make people vulnerable to fraud because they're looking out for the wrong things. A person terrified that everyone in creation is trying to rip off his book may gladly give thousands of dollars to actual criminals for marketing or some other fraudulent service because, in his mind, these people aren't trying to steal from him.

Here's Why No One Wants to Steal Your Book

So here we are, forced to talk about something that just doesn't happen.

There are a few approaches that people take when trying to convince someone that book theft isn't an issue. I could go the big picture route - go over what it actually takes to get a book published, the long odds, the years of waiting, all for a payout that's probably not commensurate with the work you put into it.

This is from illustrator, writer and editor Rebecca A. Demarest, who was being very generous about your odds of success.

Since I'm a math guy, I could go for something more statistical - point out that an estimated 300 to 500 books are released every day, and if even 10% of are novels (and all evidence is that the number is higher than that), then being ignored is a far greater risk than being ripped off.

Or I could go for the personal route, talk about my own experiences - for example, how I used to give away thousands of free downloads as well as actual paperbacks I had to pay to print and ship, all to get reviews - and ended up with a single, one-star, five-word review for my troubles.

But I'm going to do something a little bit different, because I think some of you might benefit more from a hands-on lesson. And while this might sound like some kind of Swiftian satire, I assure you that it's not. I actually want you to do what I'm about to suggest.

Please Steal My Book

There are three complete novels on this site which you can download for free:

These are all Creative Commons works, specifically CC BY-SA, a very broad license which allows for derivatives and commercial use so long as you credit me and your own work is also Creative Commons.

I want you to download one of those books (along with the cover - the art is CC as well) and put it on Amazon KDP and try to sell it. I'm totally serious - you can do this. I want to come back a month from now and find these books for sale in a hundred places on Amazon, and find out they're not making any sales, because they're also on Wattpad and Inkitt and Neovel and wherever else you can put them. And I want to find out that you've been printing paperback copies and selling them, which you can also totally do.

And I want you to steal my short stories while you're at it. A year from now, I want to find "Starless Night" in dozens of Creative Commons anthologies, in image memes floating around Pinterest and Twitter and heavily monetized Instagram feeds. I want to see them turned into animations on monetized YouTube channels that don't pay me a dime.

But start by stealing my books. It's up to you which one you pick - All the Stars maybe isn't the best choice because it's book one in an unfinished series, but maybe you can continue that series. Then again, this is about easy money, and Nerd World is definitely best-seller material. Yes, you should definitely steal that one.

But steal something. Go on. I won't beg.

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